Friday, May 22, 2020

Slow Roasted Brown Sugar Pork Ribs for Memorial Day, 4th of July, Labor Day or Any Day Delicious


Stafer-at-home means being careful but it doesn't mean we can't enjoy a great summertime feast. Memorial Day, Fourth of July, Labor Day and any day, we can enjoy a meal and celebrate life even during a pandemic.

For me, that means making pork ribs.

My mother taught me to make pork ribs with a thick coating of sauce sweetened with brown sugar and raisins. Eating those finger-licking ribs was one of my favorite childhood memories.
Everything changed on a busy research trip to Abilene and Fort Worth, when I ate at 25 restaurants in 36 hours. I fell in love with West Texas BBQ.
At restaurant after restaurant, I watched grill masters lay bundles of mesquite into their subcompact-car-sized smokers. With the heavy metal doors open, the wood crackled as flames enveloped the logs The grill masters seasoned their racks of pork ribs with thick, grainy coats of brown sugar and spices rubbed onto the meat.  Waves of dry heat radiated from the smokers. But the heat that would cook these ribs would come not from an open fire but from smoldering mesquite embers.
When the doors were closed, the blazing logs were starved of oxygen. The flames died and a delicate smoke filled the air. At that moment the grill masters loaded in the racks of ribs coated with sweetened dry rub. Hours later, the ribs were removed, their outer coating thickened to crispness, creating what grill masters call “bark.”
I loved those ribs even more than the ones from my childhood.
At home, without the benefit of a smoker, I experimented for years to duplicate that sweet-crispness. Nothing could ever recreate the wonderful mesquite smokiness but I did succeed in making ribs with bark as good as any I enjoyed in West Texas.

High heat versus slow cooking

Mix of kosher salt, black pepper, brown sugar, cumin, coriander and cayenne for dry rub slow roasted pork ribs. Credit: Copyright 2016 David Latt

Mix of kosher salt, black pepper, brown sugar, cumin, coriander and cayenne for dry rub slow roasted pork ribs. Credit: Copyright 2016 David Latt

Cooking with high heat is exciting. There is great pleasure in watching the pyrotechnics of an outdoor grill as sizzling fat catches fire.  Roasting at low heat in the oven lacks that excitement.
And yet, what happens in an oven set at 250 F has its own kind of magic. In the darkness of the oven, the waves of steady heat melt the fat inside the rack, tenderizing the meat and gently fusing the dry rub to the outside of the ribs.
The best magic of all is that the oven does the work. No standing over a blazingly hot grill on a hot day. Once the oven door closes, there is nothing to be done.
Walk into the kitchen and a savory-sweet aroma scents the air. Pull the baking tray out of the oven and press a finger against the outside of the rack. The soft pliancy of the meat has been replaced by a jerky-like crust as sweet as a crème brulee topping.

Slow-Roasted, Dry-Rubbed Pork Ribs

Rack of pork ribs, trimmed. Credit: Copyright 2016 David Latt
Cooking time depends on the size and thickness of the rack.
Buy good quality pork. Asian and Latin markets are often a reliable source of fresh pork products. Unlike the ribs sold in upscale supermarkets, the ribs in these markets will most likely be untrimmed.
Above the actual ribs, the rack will have a top portion with boneless flap meat and a section with thick bones similar to country style ribs.  Another smaller piece of flap meat will stretch across the back of the rib bones.
Requiring only a sharp filleting knife and a few minutes, removing the flap meat and the top portion is not difficult. The flap meat is excellent to use in stir fries, slow roasted in the oven or grilled on the BBQ.
A white membrane is attached to the outside of the flap meat. Use a sharp filleting knife to separate the meat from the membrane and discard.
The flap meat and country style bones can be prepared in the same manner as the ribs.  They will cook more quickly and should be removed from the 250 F oven after a total of 2 to 3 hours depending on thickness.
While the rack of ribs does not have to be turned over, the flap meat and country style bones should be turned over after one hour for even cooking. After another hour, use kitchen shears to cut off a small piece of meat to test for doneness. Return to the oven if the meat is not yet tender.
To eat the country style ribs, have a sharp paring knife handy to help cut out those hard to reach tasty bits tucked between the bones.
The ribs can be cooked ahead and reheated. In which case, do not cut apart the ribs until ready to serve. Reheat in a 300 F oven for 15 minutes.
Prep time: 30 minutes
Cooking time: 6 to 8 hours
Resting time: 5 minutes
Total time: 6 hours, 35 minutes to 8 hours, 35 minutes
Yield: 4 servings
Ingredients
1 rack pork ribs, 4 to 5 pounds, washed, dried
3 cups brown sugar
2 tablespoons kosher salt
2 tablespoons freshly ground black pepper
¼ cup cumin
¼ cup coriander
½ teaspoon cayenne (optional)
Directions
1. Place a wire rack in the middle of the oven. Preheat to 250 F.
2. Select a baking pan or cookie sheet that is 2 inches longer than the rack of ribs. Cover the pan with aluminum foil for easy clean up. Place a wire rack on top of the aluminum foil.
3. Lay the rack of ribs on a cutting board, bone side up. Use a sharp filleting knife to remove the tough membrane on the bone side of the rack. Let the knife help you lift the membrane. Use your fingers to pull the skin off the bones and discard.
4. Do not cut off any fat.
5. In a bowl, mix together dry ingredients.
6. For easy cleanup, lay a sheet of plastic wrap on the cutting board. Place the rack on the cutting board. Layer a thick coat of the dry spices onto both sides, covering the meat and bones.
7. Reserve left-over dry rub in an air tight container and refrigerate for later use.
8. Carefully place the rack of ribs on the wire rack meat side up.
9. Put the baking sheet into the preheated oven.
10. Roast six hours. Remove from oven. Use kitchen shears to cut off a small piece and taste.
11. The outside should have a jerky-crispness. The meat inside should be moist and tender. The tapered end of the rack where the bones are small will cook faster than the rest of the ribs. Use the kitchen shears to cut off that section before returning the rack to the oven for another one-two hours. Be careful not to dry out the meat.
12. Once the ribs are cooked, remove from oven and let the meat rest five minutes.
13. Cut between the rib bones and chop into pieces any flap meat without bones. Serve hot with a green salad, Cole slaw, baked beans or freshly steamed vegetables.

Thursday, April 23, 2020

Ready, Set, Go: Make Italian Limoncello

For the moment, long distance travel to Italy, one of my favorite destinations, is not possible. To remind myself of my trip last fall to Milan and the Piedmont, I have been enjoying Italian treats. Charred red peppers topped with anchovies. Homemade pasta. And, limoncello.

From the scourges of the pandemic, we can learn that our good fortune is fragile and that our determination to overcome adversity is indomitable.

Staying safe at home, we're taking the long view.


The days are good. We do our work remotely. At dinner we watch the PBS NewsHourthen we stream episodes of the Swedish The Restaurant or the French The Bureau or the Israeli Shtisel.


We look forward to the time when we'll be able to have a meal at a restaurant, meet friends for a walk on the beach (even as we still observe social distancing), go to a movie theater and have a dinner party at our house.

To celebrate that time, I'm infusing spirits. Italian limoncello is made with vodka, a great number of lemon peels and simple syrup (sugar "melted" in water) and Japanese Umeshu (more about that in another post) is made with fresh Ume (green sour plums), Japanese rock sugar and vodka.

I make limoncello because my wife drinks an iced tea every afternoon. Now that our dining room is her "office," I know that her daily routine is to have an iced black tea with a lot of fresh lemons.

When Michelle leaves me her post-squeezed lemons, I trim off the white, bitter pith and add the peels to a jar of vodka I keep on a shelf in the garage. Day by day, the lemon peels accumulate and fill the jar.

Over time they transfer their citrus-intensity to the neutral vodka. The more time, the more depth of flavor.

Waiting six months is good. Twelve months is better. To transform the lemon infused vodka into limoncello, I'll add simple syrup and place the bottles in the freezer. When it's time to toast the resumption of our lives, we can raise our glasses with homemade limoncello and celebrate life!


Homemade Limoncello

I first enjoyed limoncello in Italy. Of course. Nothing could be better than sitting at a table at an outdoor cafe, watching people walk by, sipping an ice cold glass of limoncello. Italy has been through so much during the pandemic. So have we all. I can think of no better way to celebrate a return to our new-normal lives than to toast Italy and the resilience of life!

Cin Cin!

Since the vodka will be flavored with lemon peels and simple syrup, no need to buy a premium brand. Use an inexpensive spirit like the off-brands sold in supermarkets or in Smart & Final.

Only use unblemished lemon peels. Meyer lemons have a milder quality and I like to use them when available.


Select a large jar with room for the lemon peels. In general that means filling the jar only 2/3s with vodka, leaving the remainder of the space to be filled with lemon peels.

Do not add lemon juice.

The amount of simple syrup combined with the infused vodka depends on whether you enjoy a dry or a sweet limoncello.  I suggest as you add the simple syrup, taste as you combine the two. You might want to use less simple syrup. Any simple syrup not used can be saved indefinitely for other uses in cocktails, baking and cooking.

Ingredients

20 lemons, peels only, no juice, washed, white pith and pulp removed and discarded

Fifth of vodka

1 cup white sugar

1 cup water

Directions

Place the glass jar and lid into the dishwasher or wash with hot water and soap to sterilize.

Pour in vodka no more than 2/3s of the volume of the jar.

Add lemon peels as you use lemons. If you have a lemon tree, you will be able to add many lemon peels at once.

After six or more months, strain out lemon peels for another use. (Kept in a small amount of vodka, the peels will can be sliced thin and used to flavor cocktails and desserts.)

Measure and set aside vodka.

In a saucepan add an amount of white sugar that equals the amount of vodka.

To the saucepan, add an amount of water equal to the white sugar.

Set on a low flame. Do not stir or disturb.

As bubbles rise from the bottom of the pan, the sugar will slowly dissolve. When the sugar has dissolved completely, allow simple syrup to cool.


Combine simple syrup and vodka, tasting as you add to determine the level of sweetness you prefer. Mix well.

Keep bottle in freezer. Allow bottle to sit on the counter for 15 minutes and serve icy-cold.

Tuesday, April 21, 2020

Ready, Set, Go: Figs Tart Up

This is a recipe when you are home for long stretches of time. In the winter when it's too cold to go outside. Or, when there is a stay-at-home order during a pandemic. 



There are a good number of steps, but each can be completed separately rather than all the steps in one day. The result is a dessert of great flavor, textures and delicious pleasures.

An irresistible bargain inspires new fig creations


I learned to appreciate figs when I lived in a house with a fig tree. I enjoyed watching the fruit slowly form, first as a small bulb attached to a twig, then bulging into a soft, round shape, expanding into a fullness that invited the touch.
In one of my most pleasurable, early food moments I watched a fig ripen and picked it just as its nectar collected at the bottom. Biting into its warm sweetness, I was hooked. My breakfast routine after that required only a cup of black coffee, a piece of dry toast and a trip to the fig tree.
As anyone with a fruit-bearing tree knows, while the first appearance of fruit on a tree seems akin to a miracle, as the season progresses and the small gathering of fruit turns into a seemingly unending torrent, that miracle can become a curse. Knowing a recipe that requires a good number of figs is a blessing in the face of that over abundance.
Where I live now, I also have a fig tree. This one, another kind of miracle, self-seeded itself. On day three or more years ago I noticed a "weed" in our garden. Three leaves from the tiniest of stems appeared in the middle of an area where I usually plant tomatoes. As if I had encountered a friend from years ago, I immediately recognized this uninvited plant. 

A fig tree!



The spindly trunk is now 5' tall, with half a dozen branches and leaves galore. No fruit yet, but the fig tree appears to be vigorously endowed, gaining two feet in height since last year. While I wait for my home-grown figs to appear, I also am waiting for figs to appear in the markets. 

That time will come very soon and when it does, I will make a most delicious fig tart.

Crystallized ginger crust




In the past I had experimented with crystallized ginger in pie crusts. Finely ground, I spread the finely ground sugary-ginger throughout the crust so the flavor influenced but did not dominate the flavor profile of the dessert.
With that last addition, I felt I had a winner. The crystallized ginger added a sense of heat, contrasting perfectly with the sensual figs. Served at a dinner party, my choices were confirmed. The fig tart was approvingly declared “not too sweet, full of flavor.”
A pate brisee dough, thinly rolled out, creates a flaky starting point for the tart's layers of flavors. The fig confit has a rich huskiness. A simple custard binds those flavors together. The roasted almonds complete the contrasts of flavor and texture. 

All four components (confit, custard, almonds and dough) can be prepared a day ahead so the tart can be easily assembled on the day when you slice the fresh figs.

Fig Tart With Custard, Crystallized Ginger and Almonds


Makes a 9-inch tart, or three or four 3-inch tartlets
For the fig confit:

Ingredients

4 of the ripest figs, washed, quartered lengthwise
1 teaspoon raw sugar
1 tablespoon water

Directions

1. Scrape off and finely chop the inner part of the figs. Discard the skins.
2. In a small saucepan, mix together the fig puree, sugar and water. Heat over a medium flame. Simmer and stir frequently for five minutes.
3. Set aside to cool. This will keep in a refrigerated, sealed container for several days.

For the custard:

Custard is easier to make than you might think. This recipe is simplicity itself. The uncooked custard can be refrigerated for up to two days.

Ingredients

1 large farmers’ market fresh egg
¼ cup white sugar
½ cup heavy cream (not whipping cream) Trader Joe’s sells the only cream I can find without preservatives

Directions

1. Beat together the egg and sugar.
2. Add the cream and blend well.

For the roasted almonds:

Ingredients

¼ cup whole, raw almonds

Directions

1. Roast the almonds in a 350 F oven for 8-10 minutes, shaking the pan every so often to prevent burning.

2. Remove, let cool and roughly chop. The roasted almonds can be kept in a sealed jar for several weeks.

For the dough:

I prefer a thin crust, because I want the figs, custard and almonds to predominate, but if you like a more substantial crust, double the quantities for the dough recipe.

Ingredients

1 tablespoon or 3 pieces of crystallized ginger
1¼ cups all-purpose white flour (I like King Arthur flour)
½ teaspoon sea salt, finely ground
1 teaspoon white or raw sugar
1 stick or ½ cup sweet butter, kept cold, finely chopped
3 tablespoons ice cold water

Directions

  1. Use a chef’s knife to chop up the crystallized ginger as much as you can before further grinding in a food processor with a metal blade. Don’t worry if you’re left with large pieces. Add the flour, sea salt, sugar and butter. Pulse for 30 seconds until well combined.
  2. With the food processor on, slowly add the ice-cold water in a steady stream. If the flour accumulates on the sides of the processor, shake it loose. Add enough water so the flour gets crumbly and sticks together.
  3. Lightly flour a work surface and your hands. If you are making smaller tarts, divide the dough accordingly. Gently work the dough into a flattened disk about 5 to 6 inches in circumference for the large tart, 2 to 3 inches for the small, turning it so all sides are dusted with flour. Wrap in plastic and refrigerate for at least one hour or overnight.
  4. Brush melted sweet butter on the tart pan. Place in the freezer for at least 30 minutes or overnight. This will guarantee that the dough will not stick to the pan.

Assembling the tart:

To keep the tart as fresh as possible, bake just before serving.

Ingredients

2 baskets ripe figs, washed
Custard
Fig confit
Roasted almonds
Tart dough
2 tablespoons floor for the cutting board

Directions

  1. After removing the dough from the refrigerator, let it rest on the counter 30 minutes. 
  2. Preheat oven to 400 F.
  3. Lightly flour a work surface. Roll out the dough evenly, starting in the middle and working to the outer edges, keeping the round shape as much as possible. Create a circle of dough 2 to 3 inches larger than the circumference of the tart pan so there’s enough to line the sides.
  4. Take the tart pan out of the freezer. Use the rolling pin to transfer the dough onto the pan. Start on one edge, lifting the dough onto the rolling pin, moving forward until the dough has wrapped around the rolling pin. Gently place the dough on the tart pan, being careful to press the dough against the sides of the pan. Use a paring knife to gently cut off the excess dough.
  5. Use pieces of the excess dough to fill any holes or close any tears. Tarts are very forgiving.
  6. Using the paring knife, poke holes every few inches on the bottom of the tart to release steam during baking. Pour pastry weights or uncooked rice to cover the dough. Bake 10-15 minutes in the preheated oven or until the crust is lightly browned. Cool on a rack. Carefully remove the pastry weights or rice.
  7. Reduce the oven temperature to 350 F.
  8. Using a pastry brush, spread the fig confit evenly over the bottom as well as the sides of the crust. Cut off and discard the stems from the figs and quarter them lengthwise. Lay the figs on the bottom of the tart, cut side up, in a decorative way, which usually means placing them in circles within circles. Sprinkle with 1 tablespoon raw sugar. Place the tart on a baking tray and put in the oven. Bake 20 minutes.
  9. Remove the tart from the oven. Drizzle custard over the figs. Sprinkle with roasted almonds. Return to the oven for another 30 minutes.
  10. Check to see that the custard has set. Be careful not to burn the figs. Remove tart and let cool on a rack.
  11. Serve warm, dusted with powdered sugar and with a bowl of vanilla ice cream or freshly whipped cream.

Ready, Set, Go: A Gluten-Free Pear Tart

Tart crust is most always made with flour. For those who prefer a gluten-free crust, finely ground raw almonds offers a delicious substitute.

In this stay-at-home time, when we have the leisure to bake, an easy-to-make tart is a great way to celebrate good dining and the pleasures of life.

Pear Tart with Ground Almond Dough

Select firm pears with no soft spots. I prefer Bosc pears because they hold their shape when they cook.


Use raw whole almonds and unsalted (sweet) butter. Commercially prepared almond flour can be used to create a lighter crust but is not easy to find.  I prefer grinding raw whole almonds to give the crust more density.

For spiciness, add ground up crystalized ginger, but that is optional.

Roll out dough on a sheet of waxed paper to prevent sticking.

Makes a 9" tart or three 3" small tarts

Serves 4-8

Ingredients for crust

1 1/2 cups raw whole almonds
½ teaspoon sea salt
1 teaspoon white or raw sugar
1 stick or ½ cup sweet butter, kept cold, finely chopped
1 tablespoons ice cold water
1 tablespoon or 3 pieces of crystallized ginger (optional)
Sheet of waxed paper

Directions

  1. If using crystalized ginger (optional) use chef’s knife to chop up the ginger as much as you can before further grinding in a food processor with a metal blade.  Place raw whole almonds, sea salt, sugar,  butter and (optional) ground crystalized ginger into the food processor. Pulse 30 seconds until well combined. If ground almonds accumulate on the sides of the processor, shake them loose or use a spatula. 
  2. With food processor on, slowly add ice-cold water. Add enough water so the ground almonds get crumbly and stick together.
  3. Remove dough from food processor. If  making smaller tarts, divide dough accordingly. Gently work dough into a flattened disk about 5 to 6 inches in circumference for the large tart, 2 to 3 inches for the small. Wrap in plastic and refrigerate for at least one hour or overnight.
  4. Brush melted sweet butter on tart pan. Place in the freezer for at least 30 minutes or overnight. This will guarantee that the dough will not stick to the pan.

Ingredients for filling

2 pounds Bosc pears, washed
1 tablespoon freshly squeezed lemon juice
1/4 cup brown sugar
1 tablespoon raw sugar
2 tablespoons raw almonds

Directions

  1. Remove dough from refrigerator and let rest on the counter 30 minutes. Preheat oven to 400 F.
  2. Place raw whole almonds on aluminum foil in oven. Roast 5 minutes. Remove and cool. Roughly chop and reserve.
  3. Peel and core pears, discarding skins unless using them to make pear sauce
  4. Cut peeled & cored pears from top to bottom into 1/2" slices
  5. Toss cut pears with lemon juice and brown sugar in a bowl
  6. Place dough on waxed paper and roll out the dough evenly with a rolling pin. Start in the middle and work to the outer edges, keeping the round shape as much as possible. Create a circle of dough 2 to 3 inches larger than the circumference of the tart pan so there’s enough to line the sides.
  7. Take the tart pan out of the freezer. Place tart pan open side down on top of rolled out dough. Gently flip over the dough and pan. Peel off the waxed paper. Carefully ease the dough into the tart pan. Press dough against the sides and along the bottom. Use a paring knife to gently cut off the excess dough.
  8. Use pieces of the excess dough to fill any holes or close any tears. Tarts are very forgiving.
  9. Using the paring knife, poke holes every few inches on the bottom of the dough to release steam during baking. Pour pastry weights or uncooked rice to cover the dough. Bake 10-15 minutes in the preheated oven or until the crust is lightly browned. Cool on a rack. Carefully remove pastry weights or rice.
  10. Reduce the oven temperature to 350 F.
  11. Lay pear slices on bottom of the tart in a decorative way, which usually means placing them in circles within circles. Pour pear juice over pear slices. Sprinkle pear slices with 1 tablespoon raw sugar. 
  12. Place tart on a baking tray and put in the oven. Bake 20 minutes.
  13. Remove the tart from the oven.  Sprinkle with roasted almonds. Return to the oven for another 10 minutes.
  14. Be careful not to burn pears. Remove tart and let cool on a rack.
  15. Serve warm, dusted with powdered sugar and with a bowl of vanilla ice cream or freshly whipped cream.



Wednesday, April 8, 2020

Eating Well with Farmers Market Fresh Beets and Beet Greens

Making the most of our ingredients as we are safe-at-home can create unexpected and delicious dishes.

Take beets for an example.

A whole beet, roasted with its skin on, can be a tasty side dish or cooled and sliced in salads.

If you bought your beets at a farmers market or directly from a farmer, then they most probably came with their leafy greens.

Cleaned well and sautéed, the greens and their bright red stems make a delicious side dish.

"Waste not, want not" was always a good kitchen motto, now, more than ever.

Roasted Beets

For roasting I prefer medium to large sized beets. In fact, the larger the better. Select beets that are well-shaped, without damaged areas. If possible, choose beets that have fresh-looking greens still attached.

Do not peel the beets. Keeping the skins on means they cook in their own juices, concentrating their sweetness as they roast.

Yield 1 beet: 4 servings, depending on size and preparation

Time: 60-90 minutes depending on your oven and the size of the beets

Ingredients

1 bunch beets, usually 3-5 to a bunch, beet greens removed and reserved, washed to remove all grit

1 tablespoon olive oil

Directions

Preheat oven to 450F.

Line a baking sheet with aluminum foil.

Place the beets on the lined baking sheet and place in oven.

After one hour, remove from the oven to test for doneness by inserting a pairing knife into the side of the beet. If the knife enters easily, the beet is done. If not, return to the oven. Check every 30 minutes until the beets are done.

Remove from oven and cool.

Peel off skin and remove stem and root end and discard.

Serve sliced or diced, either hot as a side dish or cold in salads.

Sautéed Beet Greens with Tofu and Brown Rice

Beet greens can be sautéed with a variety of ingredients, including shiitake mushrooms, onions, bean sprouts and red peppers and served as a side dish. Adding tofu and brown rice turns a side dish into an entree.

Yield: 4 servings

Time: 45 minutes

Ingredients

1 bunch farmers' market fresh beets

1 yellow onion, washed, peeled, roughly chopped

1 garlic clove, washed, peeled, roughly chopped (optional)

1/4 pound mushrooms, brown, shiitake, or portabella, washed, roughly chopped

4 oz. firm tofu

2 cups cooked brown rice

2 tbs extra virgin olive oil

Sea salt and pepper to taste

Directions


















Prepare the brown rice.

I use a Japanese rice cooker.

After washing the rice and pouring off the milky water, add 1 1/2 cups of water to each 1 cup of rice.

Turn on the rice cooker. When the cooker shuts off, fluff the rice, and put the cover back on for 10 minutes.

When you buy the beets, pick out a bunch with fresh looking leaves.

To prepare the beets, cut off the beet greens. Clean the beets and reserve to use raw or roasted in a
salad.

Soak the greens in water to remove grit. Cut the stems from the leaves. Finely chop the stems and roughly chop the leaves.

On a medium-high flame, heat a large pan with olive oil, seasoned with sea salt and pepper. 

Sauté the beet green stems with mushrooms, onions and garlic (optional) until they are lightly browned.

Add beet greens.

Stir frequently.

Taste the greens to confirm they are tender. If not, continue sautéing until they are.

Pat dry the tofu and make 1" thick slabs, then cut the slabs into 1"x1" cubes.

Add the tofu to the beet green sauté and gently toss together to coat the tofu with the sauce.

Serve with the brown rice on the side or add the brown rice to the sauté.

Monday, April 6, 2020

Eggsellent – A One-Egg Omelet That’s All About Flavor

Right now, most of us are safe-at-home. Like most of you, we have reorganized our pantry, refrigerator and freezer to inventory exactly what we have on hand. 



Maximizing those ingredients is important so we don't have to go shopping more than necessary. I have been writing about getting several meals out of one chicken and making pasta and gnocchi from scratch, because a few ingredients can make many meals.


But to eat well doesn’t mean denying yourself pleasures. In fact, consider the gastronomic advantages of a one-egg omelet.


THREE, TWO, ONE

A neighborhood restaurant we frequented for many years proudly publicized their three-egg omelet. The omelet was a plump 2-inches thick and settled on the plate like a seal sunning itself on a wave-washed rock.
After eating their three-egg omelet, I always felt like going back to bed.
Having consumed many omelets over many years, the realization hit me that what I like about an omelet isn’t the eggs. What I like is the filling.
At home I experimented. What I was looking for was a ratio of bulk: flavor that pleased my palate and wasn’t overly filling. Three eggs were never considered, and eventually two eggs gave way to one. Another significant milestone was switching from a stainless steel to the more forgiving qualities of a nonstick pan.

A THIN ONE-EGG OMELET IS A REMINDER OF DELICATE CREPES


One egg creates texture not bulk and places the emphasis solidly on the filling. Just about anything sautéed, roasted or grilled can find itself tucked inside an eggy bed. For me, I prefer fillings that are dry rather than wet, but experiment and find the ingredients and combinations you like. 
Whatever the mix of ingredients, the key to a good omelet is creating a warm creaminess of melted cheese.

The combinations are limited only by your palate preferences. The salty-sweetness of sautéed ham, Comte cheese, spinach, shallots and shiitake mushrooms complement the pliancy of the egg. Grilled asparagus and Parmesan cheese, dusted with finely chopped Italian parsley leaves makes an elegant omelet perfect for breakfast, lunch or dinner. Shredded lobster, Manchego cheese, cilantro, raw red onions, a dusting of cayenne and a small amount of finely chopped ripe tomatoes transform an ordinary egg into a culinary adventure.
Adding country-fried potatoes, buttered toast with jam and crisp bacon or pork links, a tossed green salad or a bowl of fresh fruit to fill out the plate and the one-egg omelet creates an enviable meal, full of flavor and careful about calories.

One-Egg Omelet With Spinach, Cheddar Cheese, Shallots and Mushrooms


Use any cheese of your liking. I prefer a cheese that plays well with others. Strong cheeses, such as blue cheese, will dominate the other flavors in the filling. Mild cheddar, Comte, Manchego and soft goat cheese work well.
The recipe is for one, because making each omelet individually will result in the best looking dish. If you are serving more than one, multiply the number of servings times the ingredient quantities to create the correct amount needed to make all the omelets.
Use a 9-inch nonstick pan, understanding that nonstick pans are designed to be used on medium and low heat. Because fat is not required to prevent the egg from sticking to the pan, the butter is used for flavoring. Could the omelet cook on a nonstick pan without the butter? Yes, perhaps as serviceably, but that little bit of butter adds a lot of flavor.

The egg can be beaten by itself or with milk or half-and-half. 
Serves 1

Time: 10 minutes
Ingredients
2 teaspoons sweet butter
1 cup spinach leaves and stems, washed, pat dried, chopped
1 shallot, washed, ends and skin removed, finely chopped
2-3 mushrooms (shiitake or brown preferably), washed, root ends trimmed, finely sliced longwise
1 farm-fresh egg, large or extra large
1 tablespoon cream, half and half, whole milk or nonfat milk (optional)
⅓ cup freshly grated cheese, preferably white cheddar, Comte, Manchego or goat
Pinch of cayenne (optional)
Sea salt and black pepper to taste
Directions
1. In the nonstick pan, melt 1 teaspoon butter and sauté together the spinach, shallot and mushrooms until wilted and lightly browned. Season to taste with sea salt, freshly ground pepper and cayenne (optional). Use a high-heat or Silpat spatula to remove the sauté from the pan and set aside.
2. Beat the egg and milk (optional) until frothy.
3. On a medium-low flame, heat the nonstick pan, melt the remaining teaspoon butter and pour in the beaten egg using the spatula to get every drop into the pan.
4. Swirl the egg mixture around to coat the bottom of the pan so it looks like a full moon.
5. Gently sprinkle the cheese on one half of the omelet — the half moon with the filling –and spoon on the sauté to cover the cheese.
6. When the cheese has melted and the egg is cooked the way you like, use the Silpat spatula to gently flip the empty side of the half moon on top of the filling.
7. Use the Silpat spatula to help slide the omelet onto the plate and serve hot.

8. Serve hot with toast, sautéed potatoes, a breakfast meat (crisp bacon or sausage links) and fruit.

Wednesday, April 1, 2020

Ready. Set. Go. "00" Flour Makes the Best Homemade Pasta, Especially When We're "Safe-At-Home"

A post from last year is worth revisiting now. Making pasta is an ideal dish for these times when we are denied visits to our favorite restaurants. 

As with gnocchi, pasta is as variable as the sauces. Go simple with olive oil, black pepper and a sprinkling of freshly grated Parmesan cheese or make a savory meat sauce enlivened with roasted tomatoes and shiitake mushrooms. 

I recommend using "OO" flour, usually easily available at upscale markets like Whole Foods, Gelson's and Wegman's and online. If "00" flour is not available right now, All Purpose (AP) white flour is a good substitute. But "00" is clearly superior and I hope you can find some.

For those of you who always wanted to make pasta but were discouraged because you thought it was too difficult to make and required special equipment, this is your moment to have fun and delight your family with the best comfort dish ever!  Buon Appetito!

When I learned how to make pasta from scratch, I gave away all my boxes of dried pasta. Quality brands of spaghetti, linguini, fusilli, penne, tagliatelle and pappardelle. All of it.

I put away my shiny chrome Marcata hand-operated pasta making machine.

Now I only wanted to eat pasta that I made myself.  No machines. Just me, a rolling pin, an egg and "00" flour.

I always loved pasta, even when my mom served me Chef Boyardee's pasta and sauce in a can. As an adult, I made my own sauces and used dried pastas, priding myself on buying the best quality available.

On a press trip to Seattle, I had a pasta-epiphany at Spinasse (1531 14th Avenue, Seattle 98122, 206/251-7673). I was traveling with a group of food writers. Before the pasta arrived, we were talking nosily about the trip. One taste of our pasta and all talking ceased. Everyone focused on their plates. I had pasta with a deliciously savory meat ragu (Tajarin al ragu). 

That pasta was a revelation. The bite, flavor and texture of chef Stuart Lane's pasta was unique in my experience. After that visit, I wanted to make my own pasta at home. I bought a machine and read countless recipes. The result was always less than satisfying.

Ultimately I gave up on making my own pasta and concentrated on sauces


Then I watched the "Fat" episode of Samin Nosrat's Netflix series Salt Fat Acid Heat. That episode is my favorite of the series. I loved watching chef Nostrat lose herself in the sights, sounds, textures and ingredients of Italy.

In the episode she visits Benedetta Vitali's Tuscan kitchen to learn her way of making pasta. The instruction was simple. Mix together the best eggs and "00" flour you can find. Knead and roll out the dough into a paper-thin, round sheet. Use a knife to cut the pasta. Boil in salted water. Drain. Done!

As soon as the episode ended, I had to try. Since I didn't have "00" flour, I used All-Purpose flour. The result was good and, thinking "00" flour was too exotic to find locally, I kept using AP flour, but the result was inconsistent. 


So I went in search of "00" flour. Which wasn't much of a search. Our local supermarket carried it. A bit more expensive than AP flour, "00" made all the difference.

I was so excited by the result, now I make pasta all the time.

Basic Pasta Dough

In correspondence with chef Lane for this post, he explained that "'00' is "a fine grained/milled slightly softer than all purposed flour."  That finer grain gives the dough better elasticity. 

To prevent the dough from sticking while you roll it out, sprinkle flour on the surface of the cutting board and on the dough. When pastry chef Federico Fernandez was showing me how to make sfogletella, a wonderful Italian pastry, for my YouTube Channel: Secrets of Restaurant Chefs, he used semolina instead of flour on the cutting board. 

I liked the idea of using the coarser semolina when I make pasta. I dust the cutting board with semolina, which is incorporated into the dough. I think it adds a nice texture. Less available than "00" flour, both are sold in Italian markets. (For a good description of the differences between "00" flour and semolina, please visit the website Farro.)


As with any dish, using the best ingredients improves the quality, so use the best eggs you can find. Chef Lane sources his from organic farms in the Seattle area like Stokesberry.

One day after I had rolled out the dough, I was distracted by a phone call. Before I realized it, more than half an hour had passed. When I returned to the kitchen, I discovered that the dough had dried slightly. The pasta that day was lighter, with a better bite. I added the air-drying step to my pasta making. I was very pleased when chef Lane noted that letting his dough dry was a key step for him as well.

Because the dough is fresh, the pasta cooks more quickly than dried pasta. On average, 5 minutes is sufficient, but taste the pasta after 3 minutes so it doesn't over cook.

I add freshly ground pepper and sea salt to the flour for added flavor, but that is optional.

When the pasta cooks in the salted water, it expands. What appears to be a small amount of dough on the cutting board will yield a much larger amount of cooked pasta.

To make larger yields, multiple the ingredients by the number of servings you want. However, for ease when rolling out the dough, I would advise working with an amount of dough equivalent to that made with 1 egg and 1/2 cup of flour.

The dough must be used the same day you make it. Once cooked, the pasta can be kept in an air-tight container to use the next day.

Prep time: 15 minutes

Waiting time: 45 minutes

Cook time: 5 minutes

Total time: 65 minutes

Yield: one entrée serving or two side dish servings

Ingredients

1 farm fresh egg

1/2 cup "00" flour + 2 tablespoons "00" flour or semolina to dust the cutting board and dough

1/8 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper (optional)

1/4 teaspoon sea salt (optional)

1 tablespoon kosher salt

Directions

1. Place the flour on the cutting board. Using a fork, make an indentation into the top of the mound to create a "volcano." Season flour with black pepper and sea salt (optional)


2. Remove the egg from its shell and place into the indentation.

3. Using the fork, swirl the egg into the flour until completely incorporated. Use the fork to scrape the wet dough off the cutting the dough.


4. Dust the wet dough with flour or semolina. Clean any dough off the fork. Use your hands to form the dough into a ball. Liberally sprinkling flour or semolina on the cutting board, roll the dough back and forth. Incorporate any dough that sticks to your fingers or the cutting board. Continue rolling the ball back and forth on the cutting board for 10-15 minutes. As chef Lane notes, "Really knead the dough a lot. You are not going to overwork it (like bread). In fact, it is more common to underwork it."

5. Wrap the dough in plastic wrap and allow to rest 30 minutes. If the weather is cool, leave the dough on the counter. If the weather is hot, place the dough in the refrigerator.


6. Unwrap the dough. Sprinkle flour or semolina on the cutting board. Using a rolling pin, flatten the dough and roll out, keeping the round shape by turning the disk of dough frequently. After rolling out the dough three or four times, flip it over, dusting the cutting board and the dough to prevent sticking. Continue rolling out the dough until it is paper thin.


7. Allow the rolled out dough to air-dry for 15-30 minutes.

8. Add kosher salt to water in a large stock pot. Bring to a boil.

9. Place a colander and a heat-proof cup in the sink.

10. Sharpen a chefs knife.

11. Lightly dust the rolled out, air-dried dough with flour or semolina, fold the circle of dough in half. Do not press the dough.


Dust again and fold a second time.


Dust again and fold a third time and then a fourth time until the folded dough is approximately 1" wide.


12. You can cut the pasta into any width you enjoy, remembering that the pasta will double in size in the boiling salted water.


13. After you have cut the dough into strips, lift the cut pasta and let fall onto the cutting board so the strands separate.

14. Place into the boiling salted water, using tongs to separate the strands. Cook 3-5 minutes. Taste after 3 minutes to confirm when the pasta is to your liking.


15. Drain in the colander, capturing 1 cup of salted pasta water in the heat-proof cup to use in making a pasta sauce.

16. Toss in the colander so the strands do not stick together and serve while hot.